I was busy in January and didn’t pay much attention to Trump’s first couple of weeks, but I’m getting slightly caught up (only slightly), and boy, isn’t this a circus. It seems like if he were to cough in a certain way, people would freak out and call him an evil man while his defenders would come out and say that this cough is a tough cough that will be good for America. It is a fascinating, if not disheartening, environment.
So how has Trump done so far? On the one hand, he’s only been in office for less than a month, and I’m sure he’s doing a lot of learning on the job that everyone goes through when they tackle a new occupation (most of which aren’t nearly as difficult as the presidency). On the other hand, he’s actually already done quite a few things, and it is absolutely fair to critique his actions and words. The early returns here are not terribly encouraging, as Trump and his team are acting in the sort of ham-handed, egotistical, and abrasive way that I worried they might if he won. I’ve said time and again that he’s not a true conservative, but unfortunately, he is the public representative of conservatives, and at this rate he is going to do some long-term damage that will be difficult to rectify. I’m not a big fan of protests that consists of mindless chanting and shouting down people from talking, so I feel no need to defend the maturity of the recent protests at various town hall meetings; at the same time, it’s not like I feel that sorry for the politicians either, and these protests are an indication that many people, some of who were Trump voters, are already pretty ticked off at Trump and the Republican Party.
Trump supporters may object that he has a lot of haters who never intended to give him a chance: Fake-outrage liberals, the mainstream media, bandwagonning celebrities, etc. They will say these groups have often exaggerated, mischaracterized, and even lied about Trump’s words and actions. I will grant that much of this is true; such people clearly have an ax to grind and rarely scrutinized Obama in the same manner, and their commitment to thought-policing is hitting new levels of immaturity and stupidity. However, even so, that doesn’t mean everything that they have said isn’t true. It can still be true that Trump is making mistakes that can really submarine the effectiveness of his presidency (and make it likely that there will be a massive backlash against the Republican Party) if he doesn’t get certain things under control.
Executive orders galore
In a more ideal world, executive orders are simply ways for the president to enact necessary instructions in order to execute existing law, as is his job. Unfortunately, they have sometimes been a way for a president to throw around his weight. This is not unique to Trump, but the rate he’s dishing these out, especially without consulting outside circles, is making him look arbitrary and power-driven.
Most of his executive orders may be legal, and as I wrote before, I think the media coverage on his executive order on immigration was often very misleading. I actually don’t think that it’s a constitutional issue, though it may run into problems against another statute. Regardless of its legality (which will be an interesting thing to watch in the coming weeks), a legal action doesn’t necessarily make good policy; even if you agree with the principle of that executive order and others, there is a distinct lack of wisdom of the timing, rate, and application of them that should be troubling.
Apparently, all of the other agencies in government were caught off guard by his executive order, leading to confusion about what it meant and how it should have been applied. This led to the absurd result of green card holders being detained at airports, something that absolutely should not have happened. This caused a horrific amount of negative publicity, and it rightfully should because it was unjust. It’s something that easily could have been avoided if they just talked to some people and had a plan on how to roll this thing out. Sure, people who disliked the policy would still throw a hissy fit, but that was something that even Trump supporters were embarrassed about.
Furthermore, the executive order may have had some justification of targeting countries that are unstable and hostile, but it left questions as to why it didn’t include other countries such as Saudi Arabia, which was the country of origin of the 9/11 attackers. There may be wisdom in trying to get better vetting processes for immigrants and refugees, but one wonders why it didn’t include countries like that. Sure, Trump’s list of countries actually came from a list created under the Obama administration, but still, if you’re aiming for safety, aim at the countries that have actually proven to be a problem.
Also, generally speaking, Trump has already signed eleven executive orders. Executive orders are a fairly frequent thing; the last three presidents (Obama, Bush, Clinton) all hovered around 300 of them throughout their eight years, making for an average of about three per month. Of course, an average doesn’t mean a constant rate, so there may have been times in the past that these presidents signed eleven or more in a three week span, but with Trump walking into this presidency with a very divided country, it doesn’t really show a willingness to extend the olive branch as well as prudent policy-making by coming in guns a-blazing with EO’s that are themselves highly controversial.
Basic communication also seems to be a problem for Trump and his administration. His executive orders could have been greatly helped by some clear communication, not only to the agencies as stated above but also to the American people. He actually had some good things to share like the creation of more safe zones for refugees as they waited for vetting, but that got lost in the fray.
In addition, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer say the goofiest things imaginable. Conway recently got in trouble for endorsing Ivanka Trump’s merchandise, something she should not be doing in her role, and Spicer seems like he’s never been coached to deal with the media and think on his feet. When you’re addressing a divided country, calm and reasonable communication goes a long way, and these people are dropping the ball.
Do you really have to appoint THAT person?
Again, I’ll grant that there will be people who viciously oppose the opposing party’s appointments no matter what, and I get very tired of the childish character assassination that often goes on during such things. Not all of Trump’s appointments or potential appointments are bad either; it seems like his Supreme Court choice, Neil Gorsuch, is eminently qualified, though his pro-life leanings is of course going to ruffle feathers for people who are gung-ho abortion advocates, among other things. There are already people attacking Gorsuch, but in doing so they’re doing nothing more than exposing the fact that they will not accept anyone that doesn’t toe a leftist party line, which hardly proves that they’re any less divisive and partisan.
However, there are others that have been curious choices. First of all, there aren’t many people on the left or right who seem to like Steve Bannon, and unfortunately he’s not someone in a position that needs to be confirmed. His weird populist agenda, ambition, and wink-wink association with the alt-right make him a disturbing figure. Let’s get that out of the way.
Secondly, there is some room for questioning the wisdom of Trump’s picks for the Secretary of Education and the attorney general. Don’t get me wrong, many leftists stooped low in attacking things like Betsy DeVos’ faith. Also, there were too many red herrings thrown out there, such as the fact that she never went to public school (honestly, who cares?), rather than sticking to the issues of whether or not her ideas on school choice held any merit and if the Secretary of Education should have an education background. However, her initial hearing was a bit of an awkward disaster, and she seemed ignorant of basic things that she should know. Also, the success of school choice in Michigan, her home state, seems to be a mixed bag, though to be fair, the problems that Michigan faces seem more fundamental than a simple comparison between charter and public schools (but nobody wants to explore the nuances of that because, screw nuance, we want battle cries!). In any case, while Trump has every right to have a view on public schools and promote charter schools, it might have been more prudent to get someone who isn’t a billionaire donor who has no education history. There wasn’t a career educator out there who champions his view? Really?
As far as the attorney general, Jeff Sessions is a lightning rod for controversy. Maybe he’s not a racist, or maybe if he was, maybe he has changed in 30 years. That’s certainly a possibility and people should not be so quick to judge him. That being said, when you’re trying to unite a country, was he really the best dude out there? Surely there were other smart conservative candidates who didn’t have testimony against them of saying racist things. Again, it just didn’t seem like prudence was any part of Trump’s decision-making here. I’m not saying he has to acquiesce to many leftists’ militant whining because otherwise nothing would get done, but he should care about how detached and unwilling to compromise his administration comes across as.
The Christian Response
There is more that could be reviewed, but that’s enough to show that Trump’s presidency has gotten off to a rocky start, not all of which is his fault but a good amount of it is. The political environment is getting worse and worse, so how should Christians act in it?
First, we should pray for him and his administration. I’ll admit that I have a hard time praying for politicians in general because I assume 95% of them are idiotic scumbags (that’s my own prejudgment that I need to work on), but Scripture commands it (1 Tim. 2:2). If there is something Trump desperately needs, its prayer for wisdom.
Second, pray for those who disagree with you politically, even those who hate us for simply being Christian. Don’t just pray for them to change their political views as if you’re 100% guaranteed to be right on all matters, but pray for their salvation (if they’re not saved), their wisdom, and some level of civility.
Third, we need to be fair to Trump, which means that we credit him if he does something good but we criticize him when he doesn’t. Some Christians who are much too concerned about what the world thinks of them may avoid doing the former, while other Christians who don’t want to make it look like all those Trump evangelical voters made a mistake may refuse to do the latter. Neither shows maturity or intellectual honesty.
Fourth, we need to model wise, humble discourse. There’s so much garbage flying around social media that it is frankly stunning. We need to listen and be willing to learn from opposing viewpoints, though that does not mean we cannot be sharp and blunt in our critiques. Right now, battle lines are being drawn such that anyone who disagrees with you is considered some sort of Nazi, communist, KKK supporter, anarchist, or <insert enemy name here> who doesn’t deserve civility but should be viciously destroyed (even violently). When Marco Rubio called for civility in Congress, many people responded by basically saying, “No one should care what that evil idiot says who doesn’t believe in obvious truth X,” hilariously and sadly proving his point that political discourse has gone off the rails.
Fifth, don’t put your hope in politics. If you do and you run around with your hair on fire, that’s not exactly showing a mature faith. Put your hope in Christ, who is our foundation even if the world is going nuts around us. All those sinful institutions will fail and pass away, but Christ will not.
This is a very divided time, and while American politics has always been divided, I can’t remember a more tense time than now in my relatively short life. I hope the country will find some semblance of civil debate and interaction, and I hope Christians can model how that can look.